Chapter 1 – Trinity
It wasn’t that I didn’t like to do these seminars, I did. I mean, who better to educate people on this topic than a person who had gone through it firsthand, right? If it weren’t so damned mentally exhausting to relive the memories, then standing up in front of the crowd wouldn’t be so bad—maybe.
I unscrewed the cap of my water bottle and put the bottle to my lips. The cool liquid slipped into my dry mouth, and I swished it around softly for a moment as I glanced around at the audience in the large auditorium.
About a hundred and fifty people sat in dark burgundy theater-style chairs, some bouncing slowly on the seat hinges, others leaning on the armrests holding their heads up with their fists as they tried to keep their eyes open and listen to the monotonous speaker on the main floor below them.
Most of the people in attendance were male, although sporadically interspersed through the group were women. A tingle of fear snaked down my spine. Many years ago, it was people similar to these from whom I had been hidden, or they had simply ignored the signs they had seen. No, I had been hidden.
I closed my eyes tightly and clenched my jaw. Not all of them had ignored the hidden knowledge, I said to myself as I screwed the lid back onto the clear plastic bottle and let it rest on my lap. The secret truth had been solidly hidden behind the well-groomed walls of the house in which we had lived. No one had known the awful truth, or if they had, they’d ignored it. It wasn’t until the fateful night that anyone actually saw the product of the horror that I’d lived in every day for several years. Some didn’t believe it even after they heard the facts and saw the many bruises on my body.
I blew out a slow steady stream of air. My attention was drawn back to the stage area of the auditorium. The male speaker was just finishing up his segment; the audience appeared to understand this as they began to fidget even more, as if to make a run for it at the first chance. They knew that when he was done droning on, they would get a break to eat the catered lunch that was provided before the afternoon segment began—my segment.
My phone vibrated in my suit jacket pocket, and I slipped my hand inside. The number on the screen was from my coworker at the shelter and I made my way to the door. I would take my call in the hallway so as not to disturb the end of the lecture.
I glanced over my shoulder at the speaker. Yeah, it was a lecture, and there was no wonder these guys were falling asleep. I would be too if I had to listen to this guy talk about the legal aspects of dealing with victims and prosecuting suspects with as much excitement as a bullfrog sitting on a rock in the rain. I pushed open the door and slipped out into the hallway as I tapped my screen to answer my phone.
“Hey, Brooke, what’s up?” With my phone to my ear, I walked down the corridor of the hotel’s corporate area. The dark red carpet under my feet cushioned my steps as I approached a glass balcony that overlooked the main entrance two floors down. Glass, chrome, and highly-polished dark wood sparkled below. A man sat in a chair reading a newspaper, his closed briefcase beside him.
“You’re not speaking yet are you?” she asked quickly.
“Would I answer the phone if I was?”
She laughed on the other end, “No, well, you never know, you might if you thought it was important enough.”
The doors down the hallway opened and the attendees starting converging on me. I stepped away from the balcony edge and into a corner so I was out of their way. I learned a very long time ago: Never step in the way of hungry men and their food, especially when the food was free.
“Actually, they’re just breaking for lunch. I’m up right after. Why I always get stuck with them after they are fed is beyond me. It’s so much harder to keep them awake once they have full stomachs.”
The men and woman staggered past, some alone, some walking in groups. More than one person mumbled about the speaker putting them to sleep. I smiled and turned my back to them, pushing the phone closer to my ear so I could hear Brooke’s reply over the loud movement of people.
“Trinity, we all know that they put you on in the afternoon because you keep them awake!” Her soft laugh flowed through the line, calming me. “Nothing like a beautiful woman with a sexy voice to keep them tuned in.”
I shook my head, “Yeah, that’s me alright.” Not, I thought to myself.
“Oh, let’s not go there again. You know you are a beautiful woman. Did you forget to look in the mirror this morning?” I heard a metal drawer being closed through the speaker of the phone; she must have taken her purse out so she could head to lunch.
I decided to ignore her statement. “Did you need something?” I was trying to get her attention back to why she had called and off of me.
“No, I didn’t need anything. I wanted to check on you.” Her voice grew softer, “I know how you get when you have to do these talks.”
She did know me well. Brooke Patterson and I had been friends for almost ten years, and it was to her that I turned when the demons reared their ugly heads and tormented me. Not only were we friends, but we were partners in business. Both of us had lived through years of intense circumstances and had come out alive. We spent all our time now trying to educate people so that they could help others who had lived like we once had.
Our nonprofit organization was called “You’re Not Alone”, and we worked with victims of domestic violence. We had started it about eight years ago, and it was the largest organization in the tri-state area.
It was because of what Brooke and I had lived through personally that we were able to do so well with the organization. We weren’t just people who had learned through college courses, we had lived through the horror firsthand.
“I’m fine, Brooke, I appreciate that, but I’m fine.” I turned back around as the hallway quieted. Only a few stragglers meandered towards the food.
I watched one man walk by, his cellphone in his left hand, the pointer finger from his right hand sliding over the screen. He had strong forearms that peeked out of the rolled-up sleeves of his dark green dress shirt. I glanced up at the side of his face as he passed and sucked in a sudden breath.
The curve of his jaw, the angle of his nose, the short cut of his brown hair, all brought back a memory so suddenly, that I froze while only my eyeballs traced his path to the stairs. My feet froze in place while my heart galloped like a horse from a burning barn.
“Trinity, are you alright?” Brooke’s voice reached my ears, but I couldn’t speak. “Trinity? Trinity, are you still there?”
The man disappeared down the stairs and still I found myself stuck in place, stuck in a memory.
Brooke’s shrill voice in my ear yelling my name finally broke me out of my startled daze, and I shook my head to clear it. It couldn’t be him, it couldn’t be.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I cleared my throat of the sudden emotion that had lodged there.
“What happened?” she all but yelled in my ear.
“Nothing,” I cleared my throat again, “nothing. I dropped the phone, sorry.” I closed my eyes, willing my heart to slow down again.
“Oh, okay. Well, you sure you’re alright to do this?” Her voice was back in its normal friendly range.
I swallowed, “Yes, I’m fine. It’s just another lecture, no big deal.”
“You keep telling yourself that.” She laughed and we said our goodbyes after I told her I would call her when I was done.
I hit the button to end the call and scanned the area. Other than some employees bustling into the lecture hall to clean it up, I was alone. No, not alone, I was just by myself for the moment. I thought about going down to where they were serving lunch, but I rejected it.
I was usually a bit uneasy before I spoke, and now my empty stomach seemed to be roiling after that memory had passed through my mind.
I glanced around the hallway, intent on finding a peaceful place where I could gather my thoughts. I saw the door down the hallway and quickly entered the women’s restroom.
Inside, I found exactly what I needed, and I sank into a deep burgundy chair in the sitting area. Closing my eyes, I took a few deep breaths.
On the back of my eyelids the memory flashed again, only this time it was with the pulsing flash of amber ambulance lights around me. The strong solid chin, the thin pointed nose, the soft green eyes set back behind thick eyelashes blinked with the lights of the emergency vehicle. He wasn’t looking at me as my eyes opened, he had turned so I only saw his profile for a moment before it was replaced with other people and darkness sank in around me again.
I felt my pulse ticking quickly in my throat, the pain from that moment so long ago almost as alive as the memory. I lifted my hand and allowed my fingers to slide over my throat. I took a shaky breath to shove away the pain.
That was ten years ago and far away from here. There was no way that could be him.